Female pilot in action over Libya

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The Independent Online

The first female British Typhoon pilot flew into action today as the RAF readied itself for another day enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya.

The flame-haired "top gun" is the only woman who flies the fighter plane for the air force.

A member of the British contingent stationed at the southern Italian airbase of Gioia del Colle, she clambered into the fighter plane this morning and took off before midday.

A total of three RAF Typhoons and two Tornados took to the skies this morning.

The woman pilot returned to the Italian base this afternoon after a seven-hour mission, giving a salute as she disembarked from her jet.

Meanwhile, one of the Tornado crew who flew 3,000 miles from RAF Marham in Norfolk and back on Saturday to launch missiles over Libya recalled the historic sortie.

Wing Commander Andy Turk described setting out on a bright night and taking in the "spectacular view of the UK" as he coasted south of London.

When they neared their targets, the four aircraft in the group each released two missiles on Libyan command and control centres.

"The weapons are quite heavy," he said. "It was dark, we had low cloud cover so we didn't see the weapons go away."

The mission marked the first bombing raid launched from the UK since 1945.

"You do step back and think 'That's quite interesting to be part of history'," the navigator said.

Hinting at the pressure he and his colleagues were under as they set off on their mission, he compared the feeling he had before take-off to "that big-match temperament like on Cup Final day when you don't want to mess up your first kick of the ball".

And the 39-year-old airman told how he had to take responsibility for everything that happened when he was up in the skies.

"Everything I do, if it's a bullet going half a mile or a missile going tens, hundreds of miles... You're obliged to understand what's going on, you're part of that chain. It's not 'fire and forget' and take no responsibility," he said.